Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Wedding Dress Blues!

WHY, oh why, fellow vintage lovers, were 1950's and 60's people so small?

As you might have known from a post a couple months ago, I'm still shooting for a November wedding, but gosh, am I dragging my feet on planning. The best I can do lately is to ebay and etsy fantasy shop for dresses, but they are ALL. TOO. SMALL. Oh my goodness, was there no one with a waist circumference bigger than two hands cupped together in the post-war, pre-Nixon era?

I'm not plus-sized, but for a six foot tall gal, my human skeleton is just going to be larger than you reet petites out there... I think I would have to have a rib removed, Victorian corseteers style, to have the 22''-25'' waists a lot of these dresses boast. AND you need an inch or so wiggle room so that you can perform optional tasks, such as walking, eating, or breathing while IN the dress. While I've squeezed myself into modern dress size 5's and 6's (with a free hip measurements... I'm about a modern 12 in fitted-skirt dresses), I would feel very anxious indeed to buy a dress in the $150-$200 range, which I'm *certain* was originally designed for someone four to ten inches shorter than me, on the thin hope that it will fit perfectly.

I thought I'd show you a few of the gems and jewels I've been looking at, for an idea of the heartache and pining involved in searching for "THE dress" outside of David's Bridal (I haven't been, but the prices scare me) and outside of the size 0 to 6. In the end, I hope to poll you, the audience, in search of alternative options. Keeping in mind, of course, that I've probably procrastinated far too long slash am way too cheap to have a dress made for me. Hopeless. I'm a hopeless case!

Gorgeous! Look at the unusual lace banding! This dress is actually a 30'' waist, which is a mite too large, but the problem with that is that the ensuing bustline is 40''. Ay yi yi. I think about how a 5'2'' person in the 1960's, with the measurements 40-30-36, would be a pretty pneumatic lady, which I, admittedly, am not. Bazooms, and the lack thereof, keeps me from properly fitting into these types of dresses, and I think trying to alter them would just make me look a little like I was wearing someone else's clothes. Which, admittedly, is something I do just about every day... but do you ever get something, try it on (or even worse, buy it and take it home only to) then realize whoever was meant to wear it was about the EXACT OPPOSITE of your own size and style? Maybe way taller, maybe way shorter, maybe thinner, maybe super busty, maybe hipless, but at any rate, somehow your polar opposite? I've had this experience after buying things size-unseen (heaped up with $1 finds at estate sales), and boy is it disappointing. I just don't know if I could take that big of a bite on items that are for the most part un-returnable.

Also, definitely looking for that late 50's, full skirt and nipped waist look, but GEE were people's waist NIPPED at the time!

I've been going nuts over these "with bolero" wedding ensembles, or the kind that have a little suit-ish top and then a 50's prom dress under-dress. What a neat idea, above, to put a cotton candy styled dress with a more structured, boxy jacket. You could go from wedding to reception in a few snaps. Below, the same idea with a pretty little lace shrug. I have trouble with the sleeves being long enough, but I'm still holding out for my dream dress with over-generous sleeve allowances. It's possible, by gum, it's possible!

What do you guys think is reasonable for a 50's or 60's wedding dress? I think I'm spoiled by the estate sales to expect price tags between $30 and $100, but $100 seems to be on the lowest of the low end. I've seen some dresses that are "as-is", "for pattern study only" that start at $80. I should've been scrutinizing those darn dresses when I saw them months ago at the sales! As it goes, now that I'm looking I don't see them nearly as much as I was seeing them. Le sigh.

Below, dig the kind of "surprise" pattern in the subtle brocade of the dress, which has an Asian motif to it (close up for a better look, click away!). I have a dress a lot like this, but in color (beige with pale blue and light pink figures) and with a slimmer collar, but I want the white one. Isn't it totally wedding-ready? I terribly, all-the-way love the line on this one.

Below, for that Joanne Whalley in the Scarlett miniseries look... but seriously, how handmade this one looks at the same time as looking totally trashy/sexy romance novel. And I'm so very not above the princess look or 1800's look. But again, to get into this one, I would need some stays. I think this is a 22'' waist. Maybe a rib-ectomy is not so expensive. But seriously! Where do people go for cut-rate alterations? Is it really as expensive and time consuming as people say to do alterations? I'm a mean cross-stitcher, but my talents at sewing are limited to repairwork (unstitched hems, etc). Something this major is beyond my abilities at present.

Another idea, seeing as I'm going semi-traditional but not Emily Post letter perfect, would be to have a pastel or pretty colored lace prom dress, opening up my options from shades of white and off-white. This, with some sort of a contrasting, ruffled shirt on Babu (he already has a Danny Zuko pink one I scored at the Goodwill in east Nashville... you never know what you'll find when you keep digging!), would give everything a nice pop of color that might be different without being too far from the norm. I really want it to have a Donna Reed quality to the whole thing, I can't help myself.

There's pale pink, for the hint of color...

Or, if we're going whole hog, why not robin's egg blue? (I almost bought this dress... it's a 26'' waist... so close. I just think if I want to move around in it at all, it would have to at least be a 27'' or a 28''...)

I saw the prettiest dress on Mary Deluxe at her Deluxeville blog, which was about the color of the dress below. She looked GREAT on her wedding day! Not to mention she found it online at a Goodwill auction site. Jealous bones. :) Isn't that salmon pink just a dream of a color?

Last but not least, in the same vein, an apple-green number. Imagine this was a lot of white crinoline underneath and Matthew in a yellow ruffled tuxedo shirt. YES.

Anyway, just some ideas on wedding finery. I have enough costume jewlery to make Gloria Swanson blush, but no dress! I've been working on this for weeks with no conclusive leads. If you have any super pro wedding tips, please send them my way? Congrats to all you newlyweds and soon-to-be-weds out there in the vintage blogosphere right now, by the way. We seem to be legion! I hope I can shake loose a few recommendations from all those clever minds out there. Keep me in the know!


I think it would be very appropriate to have a bridal-veiled bellydancer at my wedding with projections of the 5th Dimension being played across her gyrating form while "Wedding Bell Blues" is being played... right? Could we at least play this video at the reception?

Til next time.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Clothes Off My Back (7)

It has been a long, lo-o-o-ong time since I've posted anything about clothes! I keep buyin' 'em, and I keep wearin' 'em. Whenever that vintage clothing divining rod gives a shiver, I run off in all directions, hot on the trail of another nipped waist dream of a dress. And have I worn some doozies of late.

Let it be known, and shown, that it is impossible for me to take professional looking photos of myself. This is DIY, you all! Or MYBDI ("make your Bab do it"). (:

This first dress was worn to a Ba'hai square dance some months ago. That's right, a Ba'hai square dance. I hadn't been to a Ba'hai function or a square dance before (Babu's mom Deb is a follower, and wasn't it a great idea to put a square dance together for any occasion!), but it was totally awesome. And hard work! But, as you little social butterflies probably know, the hardest part of going out for an evening is assembling the ensemble. Especially when there's a theme involved. I wore this "Sears Fashion" tagged, sky blue sixties' square dance dress with white and silver rick rack, picked up at Goodwill yeeeeeears ago, which I've stubbornly worn to not-very-countrified outings ever since. After the pictures were taken, I had another thought and added a fluffy black skirt under the dress, which plumped the (voluminous) skirt and added an inch or so black band to the bottom to match the belt. Major hit. Matthew wore a K-mart brand yellow checked shirt (the same one from the New Years' pictures, if you take it back a bit), and we looked quite the sixties' square dancin' duo, if I do say so myself. Great fun.

Vain thing that I am, I love to see myself in triplicate! Here's an early 70's/late 60's Henry Lee tagged dress on the left, with a neat "girl-reporter" ish look to it. I wore it with a blazer to accent the bow in the front, and I think we lost that night at trivia, held at a local wing joint, but at least me and the mister were well turned out. In the middle, another square dancing style dress (I can't get enough of them!) from the Rivergate Goodwill. I thought it was a child's dress to begin with, but when I tried it on, and it fit so well, I figured it was maybe just a vintage petite? Which, owing to a short-ish torso, I can sometimes pull off.I love the strange use of the two fabrics. Inside, the tag is one of those "A Special Creation from_________"... but I can't remember off the top of my name who the maker was. Whoever she is, thanks a lot, lady! Your "creation" still looks great forty years later! To the right, a black suit dress that, miraculously, fits me, in spite of a tight pencil skirted silhouette. The bag is a "souvenir of Cyprus Falls", according to a tag in the lining, though, other than the straw material, I don't know what makes it very tourist-oriented? Maybe a vacation is the perfect time to splurge on breezy looking accessories. The flower corsage is one of a set made by a fan for a band Matthew toured with about the time we were dating. This pink one was matched to an electric blue suit he wore onstage with Nudie-style appliques of sharks and rhinestones throughout. That's ironic Nashville, you guys. It was too gorgeous, but I totally snagged the corsage from it. ONE burst of over the top flowers just brightens up an entire outfit.

Me and an old friend in Missouri. The dress is a great, sleeveless a-line skirted thing from Goodwill... you can't see it much but be assured, it's one of my favorites. Also, please note the man in the far right, who didn't know his photograph was being taken.

Three more lovelies...in the middle, a green formal dress from an estate sale in the Cloisters area ($3, half price day)...the coat was black, which explains the black stocking feet. At right, a cotton summer dress with a diamonds and polka dots pattern that I think came from a junk store in Alabama, sometime in college.

And for the kicker?

On the left, a super, super sixties' dress from a shop in Hawaii, that came me via a storage unit sale in Hermitage... and was part of a hail that was the very highlight of my year in estate sale shopping. I came to this craigslist advertised sale with low expectations, but my interest was piqued by the throwaway line "Vintage clothing 1950-1970" amongst the descriptions of toasters, cds, and sweaters. Pulling into the parking lot, we saw two or three card tables full of knickknacks, nothing older than the 90's, and a mostly empty storage unit. "Nothing much is for sale in there," the lady running the sale said as we peeked into the unit. Crestfallen, we were about to leave when I got up my gumption and asked "Did somebody already come and buy all the vintage clothes, or do you have any left?" in my least disappointed, most nonchalant voice.

"Oh those," the lady said, squinting at me from under her white sun visor. "You know, I didn't ever get those out. You can come look at them if you want to, though."

In a Brady Bunch, flower-power patterned cardboard trunk, I lifted the lid to, oh, maybe 18 vintage dresses, all semi to full formal, all wrapped in dry cleaning bags, ALL IN ABOUT MY SIZE, and all in seldom to never worn condition. As I took a moment to get over the shock, I kept digging and started calculating. A heavy beaded sheath, an aquamarine chiffon prom dress with heavy bodice draping, a red spaghetti strapped cotton sun dress with a huge bow in the front and huge circle skirt... and again, everything looking like it had walked off a showroom floor. We chatted about how people in the sixties were so much smaller, how her niece, a size four, had recently tried on a wedding dress that belonged to a sister they'd always kidded as the "chubby one", and it hadn't fit her, etc, etc, as I held the dresses up to scrutiny. I am no size four, but owing to the free skirt measurements and my own small-ish waist, I was pretty confident they would fit me.I knew that I wanted everything in the box, but would I be able to afford even one thing? The woman hadn't mentioned prices.

"How much are you asking on these?" I asked.

"I don't know, what would they be worth to you?"she countered.

Hemming, hawwing, I explained that I was a major vintage clothing lover, and just went around buying things for my personal wardrobe, and I didn't really know what she was wanting to get for them, soooo.... price was really up to her. I always make the seller quote a price first, and then try and dicker down from it if it's too high. Because there's absolutely no reason I should pay $10 for something they would've taken $5 for.

"What do you think you could do on them?"

I named a price that ended up getting them for about $4 a dress, she upped it to around $5, and I mentally began making cutbacks in the week's entertainment budget to allow this clothing splurge. The deal was sealed! When I got home, 10 of the dresses fit as if they were made for me, and the other ten, well, hanged if I'm not going to try and diet into them. A long, bugle beaded, Marilyn style dress in red, a skinny black Jackie-O dress with lace overlay, and five or six fitted dresses with dressmaker shop tags from Hawaii. Why the woman who bought them never wore them much, I don't know. I just thank her for the impeccable care she took with them.

Just when you think there's nothing left out there, a diamond in the rough!

Last but not least, whenever I'm not hunting down vintage for myself, I'm dragging home some menswear goodies for my Bab. To the left, a neat, stripey polo paired with skinny jeans and some black tassle slip ons, all from Southern Thrift... to the right, a GREAT 70's, car salesman loud blazer from the Goodwill in Gallatin. Look at the decorative stitching at all the hems! I just love it. He's my little fashion plate. And good natured about it, too.

Anyway, thanks for listening to me gab on and on about myself... next post, more about other people! No less vintage, however. Have any of you had any particularly Ali Baba like yard sale/estate sale finds lately?

Have a fabulous Friday night!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Person to Person: Kirk Douglas (1957)

Person to Person! Person to Person! I've been shouting it from the rooftops for a few days now... having come down only a little from my 1950's celebrity television clip induced high, I thought I would inform you e-readers of what has become my new You Tube obsession. Like mid-century interior design AND fifties' celebrities? Have I got a show for you.

Edward R. Murrow, a veteran news journalist you might remember from David Straithairn's portrayal of him in 2005's Good Night, and Good Luck, has many notable biographic moments, from his coverage of the German bombings of London during WWII to his critical role in the downfall of "red scare" Senator Joseph McCarthy. What you might not know about Mr. Murrow was his part in the popularization of a little thing called the celebrity interview.

I, for one, LOVE watching old newsreel footage of Ava Gardner or Stewart Granger graciously standing on the red carpet, giving a canned sentence or two about how much fun the film they've just shot was to make, or how happy they are to have had the opportunity to work with blah blah blah, because honestly, one brush with celebrities is better than no brush, and for a lot of us, that fifteen seconds of newsreel is about as close as we're going to get to off screen Hollywood Royalty.

However! From 1953 until 1959, Edward Murrow brought American audience across the nation into the homes of some of the most famous Tinseltown names to date.

From his studio easy chair in New York, Murrow, through the magic of television, would interview movie stars on the West coast, opening each show with: "Good evening, I'm Ed Murrow. And the name of the program is 'Person to Person'. It's all live – there's no film". No film?! Really live?!

As you're squinting at the tennis player above, lobbing the ball towards his off screen tennis mate, viewers would already be aware of the subject of this interview as:

Kirk Douglas! At forty, still some years from his career defining role as the Roman slave Spartacus, Douglas was just finishing work as Vincent van Gogh in the screen adaptation of Lust For Life (right) when he let viewers into his home for a dual interview with his wife, Belgian born Anne Buydens Douglas. "He lives in that Spanish Modern house, just off Sunset Boulevard," Murrow informs us. "Kirk, Anne, and his fifteen month old son Peter, moved in about five months ago. His sons Michael and Joel are at school in Connecticut."

Above, the first "live" view of the house includes a look at this magnificent pool and patio area out back. The Douglases are crossing from the tennis court area, past the huge pool, and eventually into the actual house. I love how tiny they look in comparison to their surroundings. Notice the banana palms, which KD notes do not actually bear fruit, but gosh don't they look glamorous?

See Kirk Douglas's pants well above his navel, in a black dress shirt, lighter sports coat, and white buck shoes... see wife Ann's cigarette length pants, black flats, and chic little cardigan! Cute, cute, cute. They enter the house while Kirk fields questions from Murrow.

"Kirk, is all this part of the reason why you wanted to be a movie star?"

"Well, you know, Ed, very seriously, I never even dreamed of being a movie star. My hope in life was always to be a Broadway actor. I've done about ten Broadway shows, but they were all flops. At least I was consistent. Then a friend of mine Lauren Bacall got Hal Wallis interested in giving me a screen test, I was a little frightened at first, I didn't think I was the type, but then after another flop, I wrote out a check for fifteen dollars, the check bounced, I thought maybe I oughta give Hollywood a try. So I came out here, Ed, and I will say Hollywood's been pretty nice to me."

I know there's a little bit of stilted-ness, or an aspect of preparedness put into the interview, as you'd have to carefully plan a show that's being broadcast live across the nation to avoid any technical hiccups, but wow! It's Kirk Douglas, in Kirk Douglas's home, talking about Kirk Douglas! In the age of MTV's Cribs, and entertainment news digest shows like Inside Edition and Access Hollywood, this is not so foreign a concept, but imagine, a few years even before Jackie Kennedy's inside tour of the White House, a major celebrity is giving us a peek inside their home!

See all the mid century modern decorative touches here? The square lamp shade on the right above what is either a desk or a small keyboard. The black lacquer panel behind him and its neat geometric design in gold. Can you make out the sky-high pinch pleat drapes in the far background?

I even like the couch they're sitting on.

"Anne...is this the first time you've been to America?"

"No, I've been to America several times before, Ed, but only on a very short business trip. But this is the first time I live here, and as a matter of fact, my first trip to America was like giving an electric train to a little boy, and, uh, when I came to New York and walked on Fifth Avenue, I felt right away at home."

"And you thought, 'This is the place for you', right?"

"That's right!"

Anne Douglas speaks very good English in a slightly nasal, mildly accented voice. Kirk Douglas was engaged to the perpetually unlucky, gamine Pier Angeli at the time of his sailing for Paris to film Act of Love with Anatole Litvak... when he came back, he was married to Anne, who he'd initially engaged as a personal assistant in the City of Lights. Douglas boasts in his autobiography, The Ragman's Son, that he learned to speak fluent French in two months through intensive lessons with a tutor. Atta boy! Additionally, vive la France.

As Anne goes to pick up Peter from a nap he's taken so he can be awake for the program, Kirk explains that his production company, "Bryna", is named after his mother, who was so impressed when she first saw his name in lights as a movie actor, that he thought he would return the favor by putting HER name in lights. That's sweet, though. Bryna Productions went on to produce many of Douglas's most famous pictures, including Lonely Are the Brave, Cast a Giant Shadow, Paths of Glory, the aforementioned Spartacus, and one of my favorite mid-fifties' emotional turmoil movies Strangers When We Meet (Kim Novak, call me).

Next, Kirk Douglas shows us sketches from the art director of his next picture, The Vikings, which have "just come in from Stockholm".

"Don't you have any of your own paintings in the house?" Murrow asks.

"Ed, I'm not doing that well...I'm doing well enough to act in pictures about Van Gogh's life, but I'm not doing well enough to buy paintings by Van Gogh. By the way, Ed, I think I hear the talented member of our family, come with me, will you?"

What a cute family, right? I'm a little guilty that I spent more time in this second long segment oggling the fine lines of that couch next to the stairwell, the venetian blinds, and the Danish modern looking dining room table set in the far background than the little baby who would grow up to be television and movie producer. His brother, Eric, was born the next year, and his two older half-brothers, mentioned earlier in the interview, are super famous Michael and Joel (also a movie producer). Family business, right? Also, can you see the huge, possibly paper light fixture hanging next to the stair railing? Yes, a thousand times yes!

Here Kirk cradles his New York Critic's Circle award for his performance in Detective Story, which, up there with Ace in the Hole, is in my top five Douglas movies of all time. See the low-slung, Japanese style coffee table to the right, the huge blonde, wood-grain fireplace panel in the back.

More MCM decorations. As he talks about more career moves and motivations, I scrutinize his ottoman.

I love Anne Douglas's chic, moderate bouffant, and the perfect arch of her eyebrows. Below, last but not least, Kirk leads the camera and Mr. Murrow to his sons Michael and Joel's favorite part of the house. I was like... um, your pre-teenage boys' favorite part of the house is the bar? But it turns out this is not ONLY a wet bar, but actually does double service as a soda fountain (MUCH more wholesome). This reminds me of my dad's deep love of the Hamilton Beach Drinkmaster we had in our house growing up... he singlehandedly contributed more to childhood obesity in his own home with those creamy chocolate milkshakes than any outside source. But so that. Douglas scoops up a fresh milkshake for Murrow, who voices his intention to come pick it up some time, and the interview ends on a cheery note.

Doesn't the whole thing make you want to watch a Kirk Douglas movie? This interview has truly served its purpose!

I found some great Kirk Douglas ephemera at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater research (of all places!). Here's baby Eric getting his hair cut for the first time:

Kirk Douglas on What's My Line in the early 50's. Listen to his Granny Clampett voice to throw the panelists off!

And last but not least, watch the whole interview yourself on YouTube... choose your own "best furniture" moments, at your leisure! Big shout out to Retroteevee's channel for making it all possible.

Found a bunch of great things at sales this past weekend, and yes, I'm still wearing my vintage bests, so I'll have to catch up with a findings and clothing post ASAP. In the meanwhile, which vintage celebrity's home would you most like to get an at-the-time peek at? Thanks for reading!


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